Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, October 17, 2019
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Having the Same Attitude As Christ (April 14, 2019)

Philippians 2:1-11

The lectionary text for today is actually only verses 5-11, which are wonderful in themselves. This is one of the most important texts in the New Testament. Verses 6-11 are considered by most Bible scholars to be either a first century Christian hymn, a tool to teach essential beliefs, or an early Christian creed, a short statement of essential Christian beliefs. Either way, that makes it very important. What did the first Christians consider to be essential to our faith? It seems the answer is in these verses.

But I think it’s important to read those essential beliefs in context. There is a larger section of the letter built around these essential beliefs. And this section of the letter reminds us that theology and ethics are inseparable. Learning about God cannot be separated from learning about the demands God places on our lives.

Ethics without theology lack a firm foundation. It’s difficult or impossible to talk about ethics without some basis in God. What is right? What is wrong? If you leave God out of the equation, what are you left with? Well, basically, you’re left with some human-based answer. Legality can become the basis of ethics. Is it legal? Well, not everything that’s legal is ethical. Or social convention, what most people accept, can become the foundation. But both of those things change. Laws change. Social conventions change. There’s nothing solid at the bottom. It’s like building a house on a swamp: The foundation will shift over time.

On the other hand, theology without ethics is hollow. It lacks practical value. Now some people like to study theology just for intellectual reasons. But it’s incomplete if it doesn’t form us into the likeness of God. One of the things we see in Paul’s letters over and over again is this rough formula where he writes about theological truth and then moves into practical applications. “This is what God is like; therefore, this is what you should do.”

Let’s look at the theological content:

“Christ was God.” His essential and unchanging nature is that he is divine. “But he did not cling to equality with God.” Jesus stands in stark contrast to Adam. Adam was made in the image of God but he grasped after equality with God. He was not content with his place in the creation. He wanted to be equal to God. Christ is God, but he laid aside his divine rights.

“He emptied himself,” it says in the Greek. This is reminiscent of Isaiah 53 where it describes the Messiah being “poured out to death.” Jesus did not stop being God, but he laid aside the use of his divine power and knowledge when he became human. Jesus depended on the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power available to all believers, in his ministry.

“He was born as a human being and took the humble position of a slave.” He lived a life of perfect obedience, even to the point of death, even death on a cross. Crucifixion was a long, agonizing, and humiliating form of execution. Victims were typically crucified in the nude and hung just above eye level along busy roads for everyone to see. The message was clear: Don’t mess with Rome or you’ll be next. They typically took two or three days to die as their lungs filled up and they slowly suffocated. Jesus died in only six hours, but that was likely because he had already been beaten and scourged before being crucified. Because it was so humiliating and brutal, Roman citizens could not be crucified. It was only for slaves and poor people.

But of course, Jesus was raised from the dead and raised to the right hand of the Father. His exaltation by the Father is the vindication of his actions. We know Christ is the perfect revelation of God because God vindicated him after his humiliation and suffering.

God is known through what he does. We often talk about God in abstract theological categories. “God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.” True, but what we should focus on is what God does. If someone asks us, “What is God like?” Tell them what Jesus did. Read these verses to them. This is what God is like. Humility, obedience, and selflessness are the supreme characteristics of Christ. And as such, they should be the characteristics of Christians. If we are in Christ, then we should have the same attitude he did.

Paul brings this text to bear on the situation in Philippi. Now, we don’t know a whole lot about what that church was like in 60 AD, but what little we do know is that it was a church with diverse people in it. There were wealthy people and there were slaves. There were Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Unity would be hard to keep in that situation.

How should they keep unity? Well, they should be encouraging and comforting. They should have fellowship; that is they should live life together, sharing all things in

common. They should be tender-hearted and sympathetic. They should work together and love each other. They should be selfless, humble, and deeply concerned with the well-being of others.

Can you think of a Christian who embodies those virtues? Can you think of someone here in our congregation? Hopefully, you can think of many believers you know. And they should be able to think of us.

This kind of living is counter-cultural. It goes against the ways of the world. Here in America, we want to cling to our rights. We want to demand our rights. “I have the right to free speech!” Yeah, but it’s often best just to shut up! And more than our rights, we should think of our responsibilities to God and each other. What does God expect me to do? What should I be doing for my neighbor?

So much of our culture is built on competition and getting ahead of others. Advertising all seems to say, “Don’t you want this thing? Look at these people who have this thing. They are better and happier than you!” We are obsessed with sports as a nation. We pay people who play them 20 million dollars a year, or more. You can’t tell me we’re not obsessed with competition when we do that!

There is no hint of competition in this text. It’s all about cooperation, and putting others before ourselves.

As Christians, we often lament about our fading influence in the world. But are we really offering a counter-culture that looks like Jesus? If we look like the world, why should they pay any attention?

It’s time for me to make my confession. I’ve spent 15 years since seminary serving in small towns and small churches. And I’ve loved the places I’ve lived, the churches I’ve served, and the people I’ve worked with. But in those 15 years, I’ve seen people who started in ministry after me promoted to places that are “better” than mine: Bigger churches, more prominent places. And I’ve struggled with that. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

I guess the only encouraging thing is that I am struggling. If I wasn’t struggling, I’d have given in and become like the world. All of us have to struggle to be like Jesus. It isn’t easy. It goes against the way of the world and the way of our sinful hearts. Unless we struggle, we fall back to being like the world and not having the attitude of Christ.

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